What does an active preteen do when he moves to Atlanta, during the COVID pandemic and attends a Jewish day school that, at that time, only offers tennis and baseball?
Nuriel Shimoni-Stoil says he signed up for the track team “by accident” when the Atlanta Jewish Academy restarted its program in February 2021. Eighteen months later, the 13-year-old placed 10th in the country at the USATF Junior Olympics National Championships, which took place in Sacramento, Calif., on July 25.
He competed in the pentathlon, which is the middle-school equivalent of the decathlon and consists of five different events: the 100-meter hurdles, shot put, long jump, high jump and 1500-meter run, all on one day.
Shimoni-Stoil’s mother, Rebecca Stoil, recalled that when her son signed up for AJA’s track team the school didn’t even have a track, and had only one hurdle.
“He used the hurdles at Dunwoody High School and we bought a shot put and he used YouTube” to learn how to throw it, she said. “This has all been kind of ad hoc. He fell into this sport. It had never occurred to him to do track and field and all these different events.”
It’s not that Shimoni-Stoil had an aversion to other sports; he plays basketball, football and soccer. But the Jerusalem-born athlete attributes his agility, strength and stamina to the five years he spent training in ballet with the Peabody Preparatory Institute in Baltimore, where the family lived before moving to Atlanta in 2019.
Stoil, a former journalist in Israel and now an instructor of political history at Clemson University, recalled that her son had stopped taking ballet lessons because of COVID. Track is a “fairly COVID-friendly sport,” she said.
Nuriel seemed unstoppable once he began competing in track and field. He tried every event he could, even through the Atlanta Track Club.
“He woke up this spring and realized that track is really a thing,” his mother said.
He participated in eight different events at this year’s Metro Atlanta Athletics Conference championships in May, where he was awarded one gold and two silver medals. Then he decided to focus on multi-events — track lingo for the decathlon, heptathlon and pentathlon. He competed in the Georgia State Championships for pentathlon in June and qualified with a second-place finish to advance to the Region 4 Championships.
On July 7, Shimoni-Stoil competed in the regional championships in Rock Hill, S.C., where he finished in second place, taking one of only two regional qualification slots for the national championships.
Nuriel is just entering his fourth year at AJA. In another year, he can start training for decathlons, which include pole vaulting. His sister is not interested in running, although he has been trying to convince her to start, while his younger brother is “profoundly uninterested in sports. He prefers tap dancing.”
“We don’t want to be pushy parents,” said Stoil, including her husband Nir, who works in e-commerce and represents Israeli artists. “It’s important to do something you love.”
She noted that school sports are so highly competitive. “I was never good at sports. I was a highly competitive writer,” said the former Times of Israel journalist who was born in Arlington, Va., and made Aliyah in 2002. “I got stuck in Israel because of 9/11. I was supposed to fly back [to the U.S.] on Sept. 12. I had already met my husband and had been planning to make Aliyah.”
Israel is still important to her son, Nuriel. He hopes to one day compete in the Maccabiah Games or even enter try-outs for the Israeli national team. Stoil may not be a pushy parent, but she is obviously proud of her eldest.
“It’s really cool watching my son [compete] at track,” she said. “It’s the most collegial sport I have ever seen in my life. They actually clap for each other.”
- Jan Jaben-Eilon
- Nuriel Shimoni-Stoil
- atlanta jewish academy
- USATF Junior Olympics National Championships
- Rebecca Stoil
- Dunwoody High School
- Peabody Preparatory Institute
- Clemson University
- political history
- Atlanta Track Club
- Metro Atlanta Athletics Conference championships
- Georgia State Championships
- Region 4
- Maccabiah Games